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Pursuing the Professoriate

Pursuing the Professoriate
Institute offers minority scholars tips, survival strategies for navigating graduate process

By Robin V. Smiles

After 40 years of affirmative action, still only 5 percent of faculty are African American; 3 percent are Latino or Hispanic; 2½ percent are Asian American and less than 1 percent are American Indian, according to Dr. Orlando Taylor, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Howard University.
To most audiences the statistics would appear overwhelming, but not to the crowd of over 900 postdoctoral, doctoral and soon-to-be doctoral students who gathered last month in Atlanta for the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s 11th Annual Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. For this crowd of mostly minority scholars, the numbers simply confirmed the importance of their decision to pursue graduate study and for most, the decision to become professors.
Taylor, who addressed the conference participants during the opening reception, emphasized the scholars’ worth. “We can’t afford to lose any one of you,” he said.
The Compact institute, which began with just a little over 100 invited participants in 1994, is designed to provide scholars with the necessary skills to succeed in graduate study and to prepare them for success in the professoriate. The conference is sponsored by the Compact, which is a partnership of regional, federal and foundation programs.
Throughout the four-day event, faculty and administrators from around the country shared tips and survival strategies for navigating all stages of the graduate process. Sessions such as “Selecting an Advisor” and “Strategic Planning for the First 18 Months of a Doctoral Program” were geared toward those just entering a graduate program. For more advanced students, sessions ranged from “Writing the Dissertation” and “Getting Published” to “Organizing for the Job Interview” and “Negotiating Your First Faculty Position.” There were also sessions designed for new professors such as “The Road to Tenure” and “Mentoring Graduate Students of Color.”
In between sessions, scholars were able to network with recruiters from colleges and universities around the nation. For those on the academic job market, the networking breaks offered a unique opportunity to meet potential interviewers in a comfortable environment.
At the same time, the networking breaks offered recruiters a rare opportunity to court future faculty of color.
Renee Baker, manager of faculty recruitment at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, encouraged recruiters to stay connected to the institute and take advantage of its directory of scholars, which is available to colleges who purchase a subscription. For Baker, the institute and the directory of scholars give her a chance to target students of color well before they are on the job market. By then, she says, most are being heavily sought after and it is too late to get them to consider RIT.
The recruiting component is relatively new to the institute, initiated in the last three or four years, said Dr. Ansley Abraham, director of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) State Doctoral Scholars Program, a Compact partner and primary coordinator for the conference.
“We are still trying to figure out how to do it and do it well,” Abraham said.
This year marked a number of milestones for the institute, including the celebration of the first group of Compact scholars to reach tenure. As well, it was the largest institute group ever, with nearly 300 more participants than the previous year and 47 states represented. Many of the scholars were attending the institute for the first time. The expansion is a direct result of the feedback organizers received from students in previous years. According to Abraham, many participants commented on their evaluations that there were more students like them who could benefit from what the institute had to offer.
Monica Dade, a first-year graduate student at the University of Maryland College Park, was one of the many first-timers at this year’s conference. Dade, who was not familiar with the Compact before attending the institute, is already looking forward to next year’s conference “to get more information, but mostly to build a community.” Dade, one of the few minorities in her graduate program in hearing and speech sciences, welcomed the “uplifting and encouraging” atmosphere at the institute. Just meeting more minorities in doctoral programs and pursuing advance degrees was the most important influential aspect of the conference, she said.
The current political climate presents challenges to programs like the Compact that are committed to diversity. Abraham admits the conservative attacks against affirmative action have lessened the amount of support they would have gotten had the climate of the country been different. Abraham, however, is optimistic that the program will continue and thrive. Partnerships, he says, are crucial to the institute’s survival. “If it was just any one of us, it would be chancy, but with the various partnerships there is strength.”
To date, the Compact partnership consists of: SREB, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the National Institutes of Health (Bridges to the Professoriate), the National Science Foundation (Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Office of Federal TRIO Programs Ronald E. McNair Program. 

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